Hong Kong finally has a 5G spectrum plan – CA earmarks new spectrum for 2019

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Hong Kong’s independent Communications Authority (CA) has announced plans to allocate new spectrum for 5G services in the 3.4-3.7 GHz, 26 GHz and 28 GHz bands by 2019.

The CA said in a statement that with all of the 552 MHz of available sub-3-GHz spectrum already assigned, and demand for spectrum expected to rise dramatically in the ramp-up to 5G in the next few years, the regulatory agency is “actively exploring ways to make available additional spectrum, through relocating other spectrum assignments, thereby clearing suitable frequency bands, including candidate bands for 5G services, for re-allocation to mobile services.”

To that end, the CA says it will launch a public consultation in the second half of this year on a plan to clear out the 3.4-3.7 GHz band (currently assigned for fixed satellite services) and re-allocate it to mobile services in 2020.

The CA will have its work cut out for it, as the satellite industry has argued for over 15 years that terrestrial mobile and FSS services cannot coexist in the 3.4-3.6 GHz portion of the band where satellite already operates without creating interference issues. The CA said it is aware of the issue and that its government counterpart, OFCA, will engage a technical consultant to advise on feasible mitigation measures to enable coexistence.

Meanwhile, the CA also said it intends to make available 4.1 GHz worth of mmWave spectrum in the 26-GHz and 28-GHz bands specifically for 5G. From the press release:

While the 28 GHz band is currently vacant, part of the 26 GHz band is assigned for fixed links in Hong Kong.  The CA intends to notify in the first half of 2017 spectrum assignees in the 26 GHz band on band vacation by mid 2019, and would coordinate with them on the relocation of their current operation to other frequency bands. […]

“Subject to the interest expressed by the industry and the availability of internationally/regionally harmonised band plans, the CA will strive to assign spectrum in the 26 GHz and 28 GHz bands for the provision of 5G services in 2019 at the earliest,” a spokesperson for the CA said.

The CA also said that the Hong Kong government is set to review its target date for the switch-off of analog terrestrial television services – currently scheduled for 2020 – to free up the 700 MHz band (698 – 806 MHz) for mobile services, but didn’t indicate to what extent the date could be brought forward, if at all. Any switch-off date has to be coordinated with mainland China to mitigate interference problems.

The CA announcement comes after months of badgering by incumbent telco HKT, which has issued a swarm of open letters and policy papers in recent months lambasting the government’s decision not to release new spectrum for cellcos until at least 2019 as demand for LTE ramps up and 5G looms on the horizon.

The CA has maintained that there’s no point in allocating new spectrum for 5G when there’s no industry standard for it. At the time, the 3GPP’s working schedule aimed at completing the 5G New Radio (NR) standard by September 2018.

However, the mobile industry has been moving to accelerate 5G development and standardization in the last couple of months. Earlier this month, 3GPP RAN decided to finalize the Non-Standalone (NSA) version of 5G NR by March 2018 before completing the Standalone version on schedule in September 2018. Meanwhile, a number of mobile industry players at MWC17 made pledges to cooperate more closely on 5G tests and trials to ensure that pre-standard trials don’t result in fragmented implementations of the final 3GPP standard.

HKT did not respond to a request for comment by press time, but while the incumbent may be happy that the CA finally has a 5G plan, it may be less pleased that the plan still doesn’t provide the mobile sector with any new spectrum before 2019, which has been one of HKT’s central complaints.

That said, while cellcos still won’t have new spectrum before 2019, they’ll still have access to it for trial purposes. The CA said that OFCA is now set to issue permits for temporary spectrum allocations to allow cellcos and other interested parties to conduct trials for both 5G and IoT technologies before 2019.

EDITED TO ADD [3.21 – 17:20]: HKT has commented on the CA’s announcement:

“We think that it is positive that the Government has listened to our concerns and is now moving in the right direction. Better late than never but Hong Kong has fallen behind so many countries that have been positively developing their 5G policy, regulatory and spectrum environments and OFCA (Office of the Communications Authority) needs to move much faster so that Hong Kong can catch up and claim a leadership position again.”

“The Government must publish as soon as possible a clear roadmap for the release of the aforesaid bands for the mobile service operators and other industry parties.”

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